ESCONDIDO — As cars zoom by on Centre City Parkway, Beth Mercurio is helping dozens of passionate gardeners weed pathways and plug leaky hoses.
Mercurio manages the Escondido Community Garden, which is home to 110 plots rented annually by residents.
The garden is bursting with produce and each plot is tended by its owner. The produce grown is as diverse as the gardeners that rent the plots.
“We’re like a little microcosm of the world, with the good things and the bad things,” said Mercurio.
Languages from all over the world can be heard at the garden, including Tagalog, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish and Farsi.
There are some translators to help with the language barrier. At times, the intersection of different cultures and languages can be difficult, but for the most part the garden runs smoothly, according to Mercurio.
Each plot has its own identity and the gardeners choose what to plant.
Todd Kemper loves peppers and grows all types from jalapeños to the more obscure golden treasure pepper. He experiments with different types of peppers and dehydrates them to turn them into a pepper shake.
He and his wife Debbie have been growing peppers at the garden for more than five years.
“This is our pepper place,” said Debbie.
“It’s like anywhere, it has its problems,” Todd added about the garden.
Someone recently picked off one of his golden treasure peppers without his permission.
Stacy Weber uses the garden to come de-stress after work. Instead of coming out every single day to water her plants, she shares the responsibility with a plot neighbor.
Gardeners are not allowed to use pesticides, so everything grown is organic. Master gardeners and composters help the members adhere to the organic guidelines, according to Mercurio.
The garden is visited by different organizations almost daily, said Mercurio.
“We have tried to incorporate as much of the community as possible and reflect the community,” said Mercurio.
The Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts are going to help build benches under shaded tree canopies and complete other odd jobs around the gardens.
School groups from around Escondido also come on field trips and students learn about produce. They get their hands dirty planting or harvesting, depending on the season.
The garden is over an acre and is just south of the Escondido Police and Fire Headquarters on N. Centre City Parkway.
Mercurio has managed the garden for 20 years and calls it a labor of love.
“No one gets paid out here. We do it because we love it,” said Mercurio.
She also credits the city with making the garden a grower’s paradise. The city helps with water, taking out the dumpsters and porta-potties.
“They are extremely supportive and not all gardens are lucky enough to have a city that’s so supportive,” said Mercurio.
Anyone can rent a plot in the garden but the waiting list is long. It can take up to a year to get a plot, which rents for $36 a year.